Oppenheimer: Science and Moral Conflict Personified

FInally saw Oppenheimer last night, and thought it did a great job of illustrating the conflicts found with technology/science and morals, its interaction with power and the compromises we make in life and politics. Religion even gets a bit of a mention in that Oppenheimer seemed to have no moral qualms about building a bomb to drop on Germany, as Hitler was killing his tribe so to speak, but had difficulty with bombing Japan.
I recommend seeing it if you get the chance. Even knowing the general story, it made for an intense experience, and the 3 hours went by quickly. Any thoughts on the movie or of how we all rationalize our experiences?


We definitely thought it was well done, despite being long. I appreciate movies that are willing to tackle morally muddy topics like this. Really liked the acting performances too.

The part that struck me the most was the ending, where Einstein tells Oppenheimer that the honors people give him are not really for him, but “for them.” It just emphasizes how much we desire to put people on pedestals and have heroes, both in science and in religion. And recently how hard some of our religious heroes have fallen should make us stop and think a little about why we do that and if there are healthier ways to live.


Though I probably won’t ever see the film, I just can’t get into war, true crime or political films, I did run into this type of discussion a lot in the army. Not even with the morality around technology but still similar. Like almost no soldier will feel bad over shooting someone they think is evil and trying to kill them. But during gun fights, lots of civilians died. The war spanned quite some time. Long enough that we did know that some of the innocent civilians killed back early on, had kids and some of these kids became orphans and some of those orphans in this war torn community knew their parents were just innocent people killed. So some of those orphans grew up angry and joined the groups we were fighting.

So sometimes the discussions went like this.

A soldier would say his dad joined the army when his son was in intermediate school. His dad joined because these terrorists killed a bunch of innocent people in a tower. Our country was attacked and so we went to war. His dad killed a bunch of terrorists and also sometimes unfortunately innocent people died.

Those kids were around the same age as his son. His son grew up angry that his dad died in war. So now the son is an adult and joins the army and he’s fighting others who were the kids of those killed. So it’s sons killing other sons because their dads killed each other.

So the talk would be…… who’s the one that is evil. Is the son of a fallen soldier fighting because his dad and country was attacked and killed or is the little Muslim boy who started fighting and killing because his dad and country was attacked and killed.

On both sides, in every way, the majority of soldiers are from poor families. From families that could not put their kids through college. So they join hoping to get a go bill and resume to put them in a good school to live a better life.

In the war on terror around 7,000 military members died. Around 1-4 million ( I see different numbers ) of lives were lost. Around 400,000 of those lives were innocent civilians in the Middle East.

The atomic bombs are thought to have killed around 200,000 people in a span of a few days. Lots of them civilians. Though I’m under the impression the pre raids drove away the majority of civilians. We know that the Japanese were doing terrible things to Chinese citizens. A lot of it is really “ eye for an eye “ mentality. After decades of being in the Middle East and pulling out, it’s not really in any better shape. I often wonder how much better off would it had been if after the initial few years we focused more on building schools.


There was the moral conflict dimension but that there was also about the political dimension that was so worried about Communism.

“There is nothing new under the sun” is the first thought that comes to my mind, followed by how many examples immediately pop into my head? Campbells vs. McDonalds, Wars of the Roses, almost any royal house that practiced lateral succession (early medieval Scotland is the one I know a bit more about, but plenty of others), the feud in Huckleberry Finn, etc., etc.

And then there’s the note that an invasion of Japan probably would have cost dramatically more civilian and military lives. I for one can be personally glad that the invasion never happened: one of my great-grandfather got drafted too late to fight, and my maternal grandfather turned 18 in 1946.


Definitely is a repeating theme. Each year or two I try to focus in on some ethnic group. Try to find books of horror, history, myth and theology of the groups. This year I’ve been focused on native Americans , or rather indigenous people of north and Central America. Noticed a lot of romanticism and demonization in them ranging from them all being so kind you could walk from Mexico to Canada without an issue to them being complete monsters. I presume they are like everyone else and have good and bad. It’s definitely odd reading how they were treated within contracts and so on. It’s crazy the declaration refers to them. Read how much of the lord around people like the Aztec was mostly meant to scare others away and was not true 100%.

It got interesting reading about the Xixime and how they did seem to have some cannibalism within their society. That for a while it was rejected as being true but that a man Jose Punzo who is an archeologist discovered lots of remains (bones) that showed evidence of boiling and carving away of flesh.

I follow a handful of indigenous vegans. Even within veganism there is argument over the misconception that veganism is a white thing when reality it’s found in every culture and time essentially. There is a growing movement of indigenous tribes buying up land to develop cattle ranches and slaughterhouses. Even the Creeks near me are trying to do it.

It always seems like with our species technology is often funded and under as a means of controlling people and that includes with war and we always seem to fall back on the Machiavellian notion of the ends justify the means. Like would it have been better to go back in time and kill Hitler as a baby to prevent all the future deaths? I don’t think so. I think it would be better to go back and raise him up better or either to stand against him before he rose to power to prevent Germans from succumbing to his fear lingering racism. Plus just like any scenario can be imagined better by changing some things, likewise they could be worse too.


This makes it sound worth seeing.

My normal aversion to going to a theater is screaming kids since they can easily set of an anxiety episode (in part because as a lifeguard for seven years my first instinct at hearing screams is to go into “rescue mode”), but it strikes me that Oppenheimer isn’t likely to attract anyone under maybe 16.


Of course neither Afghanistan nor Iraq would have welcomed us wanting to build schools there before the wars.

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Interesting – near here they’re into bison. Last time I drove southeast from here there was a ranch on one side of the road with “beefalo”, the hybrid between cattle and buffalo, and on the other side of the road was regular bison. Both, I think, are owned by the reservation here while not actually on reservation land, unless the reservation got extended.

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Well, some of them would not want it. Well before 9/11 there has been schools for females in various villages. Central Asian Institute has built some. There are very liberal people in these countries. There are men and women outraged over how the taliban has barred millions of females from school.

So perhaps, it would have been better to establish more loving imams with a more liberal social outlook and the last 20 years could have been focused more on developing this culture, much like it is in Indonesian Muslims.

Definitely not a kids movie. It is rated R, mostly for a little bad language, and some nudity and sex scenes of Oppenheimer during an affair. Oddly enough, they were of course sexual, but not sensual, if that makes sense. The most stirring scene and one that strangely nearly brought me to tears was when the A-bomb exploded in the testing.
That does bring up in Oppenheimer’s life, how it is illustrative of how we compartmentalize and rationalize our moral choices, perhaps being upright in one portion of our life, and failing miserably in another, sometimes without fully realizing it.


I saw Oppenheimer HD in the theater. I was impressed. The sex was weird, out of place, and seemed unnecessary. But on second thought, perhaps it is one of several gimmicks the film maker used to counterbalance all the science and politics and thus keep it real for more people.

The film had so many points of interest for me – all the different sides spoke to various parts of my own life.

  1. I am a physicist.
  2. My father was black listed as a communist (though he totally deserved it)
  3. My wife is Japanese.
  4. But… I am an American.

The scenes with Einstein were suggestive and intriguing to me. The message I got was that both bore this burden of seeing the science they contributed to being used for killing people.

In the political battles of the later part of the film… I kept thinking… how does any of this political nonsense compare to real accomplishments. In the end, the message of the film is clear… they don’t compare at all.

As for the H bomb… I cannot agree with Oppenheimer. The Pandora’s box was already open. and to switch metaphors… having grabbed the tiger by the tail, we had no choice but to hold on tight.


I think the sexual infidelity was part of showing the complexity of his life, and through it ours as we are torn between doing good and being evil all at the same time. Best film I have seen in a long time, which surprised me.


I guess in many ways the H Bombings where necessary to prove how terrible they are, but it was a bit rough on the recipients. I wonder if they would consider their sacrifice justified?


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There were none, just tests. There was peripheral damage and there were smaller populations impacted, but not like you appear to be saying.

With respect to most people dying coming from the ranks of the poor, I seem to remember that doing the English “War of the Roses”, the armies were led by the nobles. At the end of that conflict, there were few nobles left in England for Henry VII to deal with. Unlike Gilbert and Sullivan’s Duke of Plaza Toro, they did not lead their regiments from behind.


Wow, someone besides me is familiar with The Gondoliers.

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There were none, just tests.

How many people killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
It is estimated that around 140,000 of Hiroshima’s population of 350,000 were killed in the bombing, and it is estimated that around 74,000 people died in Nagasaki.

So I have no idea what you think you are talking about


Those were ‘atom bombs’, fission bombs, not ‘hydrogen’ or ‘H-bombs’, fussion bombs, also called ‘thermonuclear’ weapons. The latter were never dropped on civilian populations, but there were fallout and contamination issues. They weren’t even tested until 1952.

I think you are correct there. :grin:


Well done Dale!

The H bomb has only been used in tests.

The bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima were different from each other using two different designs, one with uranium and one with plutonium. Uranium “Little boy” dropped on Hiroshima was about 15,000 tons of TNT and Plutonium “Fat man” dropped on Nagasaki was about 21,000 tons of TNT. But neither of these were H bombs, they were both fission bombs, or atomic bombs. The Hiroshima bomb killed more people because it was dropped in the center of the city. Due to cloud cover the Nagasaki bomb missed its target somewhat, northwest of the city center.

Between 1946 and 1958, the United States detonated 23 nuclear devices at Bikini Atoll, including 20 hydrogen bombs. Among those was the March 1, 1954 Castle Bravo H-bomb test , which reached a yield of 15 megatons, 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Nagasaki in 1945.